Porsche is a deeply irritating company for the casual on-looker.
Porsche, eh. All I wanted to do was to present a small treatise on the Porsche 944. You know the score: a bit of technical background, some chronology and then a respectful look at the aesthetic elements. But Porsche don’t let outsiders in so easily. Their clubs must be full of people who crouch ready to pounce on those who can’t display the in-depth knowledge of the true connoisseur. Oh, surely you know why the 924 was made in Bremen and not Osnabruck, Ray…
To be able to talk 944 (1982-1991) you need to learn 924 (1976-1988) and to know that you must understand 914 (1969-1976). Of these, only the 914 has its own body shell (and wasn’t called, say, 918 or 942 or something) and even this simple fact is confounded by the way it was sold as a VW-Porsche 914. Finally we get to the 912 – which is just another 911, an entry-level model of that old can. Don’t mention the 356, please – I fear we will end up reaching back to the geology of the region where Porsche is made.
Turning that around: you will need to know that the 911 begat a cheaper version in 1965, equipped with 1.6 litre Porsche engines and, erk, 2.0 litre VW engines. That’s the 912 which looks like a 911 to you and me. Porsche then decided to market a separate line of cars with a distinct body shell: that’s the 914 (above), notable for its idiosyncratic form which I rather like. It’s nearly but not quite wrong. It didn’t get a really warm reception (in part because it wore its VW origins too obviously but it’s the Porsche I could imagine owning).
Now, interestingly, Porsche ran from rear-engines (as in behind the driver) and went front-engine for the 924. Designer Harm Lagaay wrapped the conventionally arranged powertrain in neat and conventional clothes for the 1976 924. It had pop-up lights as were the vogue. A vogueish-hatchback adorned the rear, meaning the 924 managed a good deal more practicality than the 914 and the evergreen 911 which was refusing to bloody die.
The 924 received two engines: a base-model 2.0 and a slightly meatier 2.5 litre engine; both sat ahead of the driver and power went to the back. In one fell swoop Porsche had solved all the problems of the 911 including its absurd asking price. While the car was criticised for its supposed lack of performance, it sold well while trying not to stand on the toes of the 911.
Finally we get to the subject of our article…
The 944 appeared in 1982 as a sort-of new model: more refined, faster and with small external modifications. It was a sorted-out or messed up 924, depending on your view of engineering purity. The 944 was really nothing that would deserve a new model name in other firms. Look what Ford did to the Sierra in 1987 and it was still a Sierra. The 944 interior was the same as the 924 even if the drag coefficient was worse.
Now here’s a list of shibboleths, the improvements for the 1985 car: “In mid-1985, the 944 underwent its first significant changes. These included : a new dash and door panels, embedded radio antenna, upgraded alternator (from 90 amp to 115 amp), increased oil sump capacity, new front and rear cast alloy control arms and semi-trailing arms, larger fuel tank, optional heated and powered seats, Porsche HiFi sound system, and revisions in the mounting of the transaxle to reduce noise and vibration. The “cookie cutter” style wheels used in the early 944s were upgraded to new “phone dial” style wheels (Fuchs wheels remained an option). 1985 model year cars incorporating these changes are sometimes referred to as “1985B”, “85.5” or “1985½” cars.” (Wikipedia).
The 944 went on to sell an eventual 160,000 examples, adding to the 150,000 of its predecessor.
In 1988 Porsche carried on their tradition of polishing their cars’ specification and declaring a new model: the 944 S2 gained a 3.0 litre four-cylinder engine, which must be something of a record. Diligent readers will remember that 2.5 litres is usually the displacement volume where other approaches are deployed i.e more cylinders or turbos. I found just five cars with oversized l4 engines, and two of them are Porsches. Another is the GM Vortec of 1968 but its not for cars.
What were Porsche trying to do with the 3.0 litres l4? It could claim impressive torque and good low to mid-level acceleration. To cope with the harshness of the engine, Porsche installed huge vibration dampers, counter-rotating balance shafts. Compared to the 2.5 l4 the 3.0 had an extra 21 bhp but 22% extra torque. In a sense the 944S2 was a small car with an almost American feel: lots of lazy power for relaxed performance but allied to an admittedly agile chassis. So why didn’t they do all that with a six? Because they could, I expect.
If you look at Porsche today you can still see them doing the same sorts of things: confusing model names, ceaseless development and the remixing of a limited palette. One thing they don’t do so well is to make contemporary designs freed from the legacy of the Porsche 911 which in turn is a shape governed by the underlying geological structure of the Zuffenhausen region. The 924 and 944 designs remain fresh and efficient forms.
It’s worth pointing out that the Porsche 944 interior is still pretty good looking.
Summary courtesy of AutoEvolution: “The S2 variant of the Porsche 944 is the upgraded version of the previous model officially unveiled in 1988 but produced until 1991. The new model comes with a completely different engine, a 3.0-liter with a maximum power of 211 hp and a top speed of 149 mph combined with a 0 to 100 km/h done in 7.1 seconds. The brakes are assured by ventilated discs on both the rear and the front similar to the previous model introduced in 1986. Porsche!”